The Alienist by Caleb Carr is set in the year 1896 in New York when the city is hit by a very disturbing murder that soon turns into a string of murders that sets off the search for one of the city’s very first serial killers. It is the duty of Laszlo Kreizler, John Moore and their team to solve these murders before things get out of hand.
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The Alienist is a book that takes you right back over 100 years ago to a time when many things we consider culturally unacceptable now are just the done thing. It also explores the very first understanding of the human psyche and delves into the thin line between whether somebody who kills is mentally unwell or whether their action was merely an evil choice. It also looks into the childhood of people and how this can affect people’s decisions later in life.
Plot – 4.5/5
So I’ve covered the general idea of the plot above – there’s a killer on the loose in New York during a time when technologies in science are beginning to advance to help the police find killers quicker. Caleb Carr does an incredible job of immersing you and educating you on New York in the late 1800s with this story. The tale takes many twists and turns and has you experiencing a wealth of emotions throughout as well, engrossing you even more.
There’s a lot of intellect and research shown throughout this book, Carr clearly understands where technology was at this point, the research being undertaken and some of the most recent discoveries in policing and science. It’s a joy to read as a result.
Characters – 5/5
I loved the characters in this novel. Kreizler and Moore have enjoyable chemistry that sees them differing on opinions and views but having massive respect for one another throughout. My favourite character was possibly Sara Howard whose story within a story is one of the interest. Obviously, during these times women were not respected and had very little power within policing. Sara is hoping to change that as she very much shows her intellect, stubbornness and willingness to help in every aspect she can. The struggles she faces are evident throughout the book but Carr’s writing of her gives her such a strength that you cannot deny. She’s not simply there to be the pretty face, she’s very much there to contribute and even sometimes lead this group.
There are other accompanying characters such as a pair of brothers who are forensic scientists who offer a wonderful knowledge of science and the understandings and thoughts behind police evidencing at the time. And also, Theodore Roosevelt makes a cameo appearance throughout the novel (head of the police at the time but who later goes on to become President).
The Alienist summary – 5/5
I was a huge fan of The Alienist by Caleb Carr. I think his writing style was one that you have to concentrate on to be able to follow, however one that is very rewarding. I was a massive fan of the dynamic between the characters and the diversity there too (there are two others characters who I didn’t mention above that are fascinating due to their place in society at the time). Also, there’s a TV Series on Amazon Prime which I think is OK – though not as good as the book.
I’d recommend this book to any historical fiction fans, I’d recommend it to anybody who loves a good murder mystery and I’d likely recommend it to those with an interest in the history of science and policing (this last group of people may be a niche group, I admit.) You can purchase The Alienist here.